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Exercise in the 1950s

Life was to change for most people in the 50’s however, as manual work was gradually replaced by mechanisation and automation. For women, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and supermarkets, meant that life became a lot easier. With the arrival of television, there was no need to step outside the door for entertainment and the motorcar meant that walking soon became a minority ‘sport’.

Within a single decade, a once active population became a nation of ‘couch potatoes’ with only a small percentage of adults taking regular exercise or participating in sport. As a suddenly sedentary population collided with a world of convenience foods, burger bars and take away restaurants, the incidence of obesity and heart disease escalated into a serious national problem.

It was to be a long time however before the medical profession were to turn their minds towards preventive medicine and jump on the fitness bandwagon. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s most Doctors had little or nothing to say about exercise and fitness. Most G.P’s dismissed exercise for the overweight as an irrelevance, while they themselves were among the least healthy of population groups, tending to smoke more and exercise less than almost any other profession. The doctor’s advice for someone suffering from a heart condition or had survived a heart attack would probably be to take life easy with plenty of rest. 

With the variety of exercise options at our disposal today, the ‘keep fit’ routines of earlier times can seem relatively hum-drum. The 1950s, however, was a decade personified by fun, and this applied to ‘keep fit’ too. New pieces of kit were added to the more traditional floor exercises: enter the hula hoop and the Bongo Board, the fitness craze that spawned the modern balance board.

Who could have known that something as simple as a plastic exercise hoop would have taken off so astronomically? 25,000,000 hula hoops were sold in less than four months, while over the next two years, sales exceeded 100,000,000 units.

Children and adults alike were swept up in the craze, but while the younger generation saw the hula hoop as good old fashioned fun, men and women were quick to catch onto the potential health benefits of the toy (with a little help from marketing campaigns, of course). Whether you wanted to show off your skills or burn some calories, the hula hoop was the tool of choice.

The Bongo Board, too, remains unchanged. The early models worked in exactly the same way as today: a see-saw type board balanced on top of a rolling cylinder or ball. Nowadays, balance boards are usually the preserve of surfers and sports people, but back in the 1950s, they were marketed as a fitness tool for the average Joe. They were described as,“Kind of a sawn-off see-saw for one Marjorie Daw at a time,” and were applauded because, “By using Bongo… bingo! Everything shapes up nicely.” 

Read more at https://www.benenden.co.uk/100yrsfitness/index.html#xWSHlzCTjMcy22gJ.99